My father reflected in a table

The varnished luster has lasted all these years
in a pair of tables reflecting my father’s craft.

Before he was a knickerbockered Chicago boy
playing kick-the-can in the street, the tree
towered high in the fresh mountain air
of my grandfather’s dreams. As they packed up
and moved to a Colorado farm,
it sheltered birds and shaded the forest floor.

Someone cut that tree into boards
as he enlisted, missed his bid
for bakers’ school, learned airplane repair,
then married my mother. The boards seasoned
while he worked in a gas station, struggled
through the math to be an engineer,
and finally decided to teach instead.

Now a man, but with no war to fight,
my father got up in cold dawn to crouch
in a frozen field or sit with baited hook
by a rustling stream, inhaling fresh air
in silence, waiting for his chance.

He hunted to feed four, bringing home
trout and pheasant, rabbit and venison
he cleaned and prepared for cooking
as the wood waited to become something.

One day, alone in a quiet workshop, undisturbed
by tobacco-chewing students and irate parents,
he measured the boards twice. With sharpened tools,
he cut perfect, straight lines. Planing, sanding
with gentle hands, smoothing wood to satin,
he breathed the scent of the mountains,
in the same silence, with the same sharp focus.

I imagine him happy then, angling
the table’s legs with a fisherman’s patience
and drilling the dowel holes carefully,
like tying a fly. Precisely as he cast his line,
he mitered the drawer face and fitted it in place
like pieces of a broken dream.

While he divorced, traveled, married
and remarried, the pair of tables stayed mated.
Someday, their ashes or dust will join the earth
and all of us, but for now, they reflect the man
I think my father wanted to be.

This poem received Honorable Mention in the 2020 Tempe Writes! contest.

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